Aug 19, 2008

"Mom, Dad. I'm gay."

(Note to my mom and dad, before they both have heart attacks: This post is NOT about me! :)

There are Mormons out there who have heard these words from their own kids. I think we tend to convince ourselves that this is one of those things that happens to "other families." Families that are maybe weaker in the Gospel or parents who haven't raised their kids right. But I don't think that could be further from the truth. Have you ever thought about what you would do if it happened to you?

I've enjoyed reading the thoughts and experiences of active Mormons who happen to be gay. A couple of blogs that stand out are and Even though no one in my immediate family has ever "come out," I have often thought about how I would react and how it would affect my relationship with that person. Both of these blogs made an impression on me and taught me a lesson in compassion and understanding. I encourage all Mormons, regardless of your feelings regarding homosexuality, to read them. If you read their experiences with an open heart and mind, I think you will be as impressed as I was with their humble attitudes and dedication to the Gospel, despite their struggles.

When I was much younger, I was a very conservative, black and white thinker. Back then, I was pretty sure what I would do if I had a child that had chosen to be gay. (Because back then I was pretty sure it was a choice.) I think that my approach would have been somewhere between a serious chastisement and an ultimatum and/or disowning that child.

Now that I'm older and see the world in technicolour, rather than black and white, I think I would approach such a situation with a lot more understanding and compassion. Still, there are still a few technicalities that I don't know how I would handle. After hearing about a family I knew from my old ward and their compassionate reaction to their return-missionary son's "coming out," along with their struggle to know how much they should accept or not accept, I've done some thinking about it. I'm going to make a list of the dilemmas that such families face and it would be interesting to hear how others in the Bloggernacle would handle such a situation in their families. I'm sure some of you have actually experienced it for real, so it would be interesting to hear your perspective. So, here are some possible challenges for Mormons with gay family members:

  • First, when your loved one says that he or she is gay, how do you respond? With anger? Disgust? Disappointment? A desire to change them? Partial acceptance? Or total acceptance?
  • If you have a son or daughter who is still a minor and says that they are gay, do you try to change them? Do you suggest counselling?
  • Do you encourage them to keep their sexuality a secret?
  • Would you attend the same-sex civil union/wedding of your child? Would you welcome their partner into your family as an "in-law?"
  • If your child is an adult, has moved out of your home, and has a partner do you allow them to bring their partner to your home? If they are in a committed partnership, perhaps even married under the law where possible, would you let them sleep together in the same room?
I think that last point is the one where many parents struggle. How do we know whether we are simply upholding the rules of our household or imposing our beliefs on others? I have friends who live common-law and if they came to stay in my home, I would never think of forbidding them to sleep together, even though I personally don't believe in living common-law. The same would go for a homosexual couple. If I had an adult child who was inactive in the Church and living common-law, I think it would be difficult for me to deny them the same right to decide for themselves, just as with my friends. I know there are Mormons who forbid their unmarried adult children to sleep with their partners when visiting, but I wonder if it's right. Once children become adults and decide for themselves what path they want to take in life, do parents have any right to impose their beliefs on them? If so, is it worth it if it means sacrificing the relationship between parent and child?

So, your child says, "Mom, Dad. I'm gay." What do you do?


Cliff (Soy) said...

Thanks for the link.

To be honest, I kind of sympathize with parents who don't allow their unmarried children (gay or straight) to sleep with their partners when they visit. Yes, they are adults, but so are the parents. I don't really want people coming into my home with behaviors that I don't approve of and I respect the fact that my parents have rules of their own. I read an article today by a Protestant mother on how she dealt with her son's homosexuality. I was very impressed by her attitude and found it to be very loving, yet firm in her beliefs.

It's not an easy situation, but a lot of times we make it harder than it needs to be.

(By the way, there is a typo in the gayldsactor link)

The Faithful Dissident said...

Soy Cliff,

Thanks for your comments.

How would you feel about non-family member common-law couples coming to spend the night at your home? Do you feel that it's a different matter when it's your children as opposed to just friends?

I live in Norway and common-law is the norm, at least among people of my generation. It's unheard of to not live together before getting married (in fact, it would be viewed as foolish to not see how you get along living together before you make it legal) and many will have kids, buy a house together, and maybe never get married. Many view marriage as not much more than a wedding. They already consider themselves practically married and even wear wedding rings, which surprised me. Outside of the Church, I don't know anyone around my age who hasn't lived common-law. Even most people who consider themselves Christians do so. So even though I don't approve of living common-law, I can imagine that if I invited a common-law couple to my home to spend the night and didn't let them sleep together, it wouldn't go over very well. :)

Cliff said...

I would have an issue with someone drinking alcohol in my home, but I have an LDS friend with a nonmember family that doesn't have the same issue as I do. It's a personal choice what we allow in our homes and just because my friend may allow her family to drink (I actually doubt she would allow her friends) doesn't mean I think she is less righteous/worthy/whatever. She is faced with a different situation than I and handles it how she thinks is right. I see her motivations as being based in love for her family and a desire for them to be involved in her life and I can't fault her for that.

My Mom once let me know that however I decided to live my life, I was welcome in their home, but if I brought home a "friend", he had to sleep in a separate room. I didn't see her actions as being offensive, but rather as an attempt to keep me feeling close to my parents - with ground rules on behavior they didn't believe was right.

My point is that people have to make these kinds of decisions for themselves based on their situations and beliefs. My personal belief is that if a "house rule" is based on love and inclusion, then it is hard to go wrong - no matter where we "draw the line".

BTW, I haven't made the strawberry tarts, yet. I was busy last Saturday. I'm still looking for a good recipe, if you know of any. :-)

Paula said...

Take a look at:
Under the videos for Curtis, there is one where his father gives advice for parents of gay kids.

Gay LDS Actor said...

This is a very interesting post, and one which I may comment further on in my own blog. What I would like to say about it here is that the process of coming out as a gay person is a gradual thing, one which I think a gay person deals with in stages (at least in my case and in the cases of many people I know). It's a transition.

When I look back and read my journals, for example, I see that I went through denial, frustration, hating myself, working hard to overcome it, suppressing it, fighting against it, believing I had overcome it, worrying that I never would, fantasizing about what it would be like to give in to it, giving in, worrying about my salvation, accepting it, being comfortable with it, being happy about it, etc. (not necessarily in that order).

We (gay people) can't expect that our parents and family and friends won't have similar feelings. Some people don't know how to react when they first find out; some will never accept it; some will be troubled at first, but supportive later; some people will have no problem with it at all. It just depends. But I believe because it is a gradual process, patience is key for everyone involved.

I am lucky in that my family is supportive of me and my relationship, and I am well aware that there are many (including my own boyfriend) who don't have such a support system). But I also know that it wasn't an instant thing. My family knew about my homosexuality long before I ever decided to come out and stay out of the closet, so they had time to dwell on it. I know my sister's first reaction was very unfavorable, my brother wasn't at all supportive, and my mom was worried and confused. But time has passed, and they have all shown great love, compassion, and support. That doesn't mean they don't necessarily wish I were straight, but they know I am doing my best and have my free agency to choose to live according to what I feel I must do to be happy, and that's great.

My boyfriend and I have not yet had sex (our choice) because we've decided to get married first. When Jonah comes to stay at our house, we sleep in separate rooms. My mom has never said we couldn't sleep in the same room, but I think it might make her uncomfortable, and it's her house, and I wish to respect her (and, frankly, I think it's the right thing to do myself until we are at least married).

My mom has told a couple of her close friends, but she is not yet comfortable having a lot of her friends know, and that's fine. I understand it could make her feel uncomfortable or awkward. I don't feel any less loved by her for it. I just know that's where she is right now, and I think that's the point: those we love are not always in the same place we are in our transition, and we have to be patient. Some people's hearts soften over the years; others don't. But we all just need to do the best we can, I suppose.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Interesting comments, Actor. How do you think things will be once you and Jonah get married? Do you think your family will recognize it as a legitimate marriage? Would it cause contention in your family if you wanted to be treated the same way as your married siblings (i.e. sleep in the same room)? I would imagine that such a situation must be incredibly difficult and awkward for both parties involved. Anyways, I'm glad to hear that your family has treated you with love and compassion.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, FD - I don't know. I just wish sexuality was not the hang up in society, especially religious society, that it is. I think religion has taken alot of heat, because it is SO caught up in sexuality, and therefore turns a blind eye to what the person in question actually lends to it's society - and then lots of stigmas come in - gay, straight, bi, poly...whatever. I just wish that religionists could overcome those distinctions and see people for who they really are.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I'm not Mormon but I can say that whatever rules you set forth in your home (guests/family) should be for you and your spouse to set and those who stay to follow.

Even if my cousin or anyone stayed in my home I would not allow them sleeping in the same room. If they desperately feel they need to do that there is a hotel a short distance away. Same with the gay situation. I would not allow the "friend" to stay overnight in the house even if in a seperate room. They would have to sleep at a hotel.

That is how my parents were with me and I will be the same with my children. I don't agree with it but if they must by all means make reservations at the hotel. You know the guilt alone with make them think twice LOL!

I would love my children no matter what but and this is a big but I would not condone certain conduct in my home or even in front of my eyes. There has to be respect for the parents and it doesn't take much to respect their wishes... only a few adjustments here and there. I don't want it to be "obvious" in front of my eyes the relationship they have together. They need to have good judgement about they're behavior.

I would not hesitate to also sit the "friend" down for a chat to review the rules of the house.

Anonymous said...

gay LDS actor, I really admire the fact that you are so patient and respectful of your family. It's tough at times but it's great that you worked with the situation rather then against it.

Anonymous said...

gay LDS actor, I really admire the fact that you are so patient and respectful of your family. It's tough at times but it's great that you worked with the situation rather then against it.

Gay LDS Actor said...

FD, I don't think it will cause much contention once Jonah and I are married. My family isn't very contentious to begin with.

I think my family will treat us as if we are married. Whether they regard it as a legitimate marriage by eternal standards is another thing altogether, but the bottom line is that I think they will (and already do) treat my relationship with Jonah pretty much the same as they treat the relationships of my siblings.

I don't deny that there will arise a situation now and then that may cause awkwardness, but I believe all parties involved will handle things to the very best of their ability. We'll see what happens. And I know I, for one, will try to make my family feel as comfortable with things as I can.

Christine, thanks for your comments.

Perdita said...

You write very well.

EMS said...

FD, This may not be the perfect place for my comment, but I am at the end of about 90 minutes of reading on your blog, and I want to comment on the LDS Church and homosexuality - and how to deal with relatives who are "different" than we are ourselves.

I was married to a man who eventually told me he was gay. Our marriage was sealed in the SLC temple three days after a civil ceremony in Illinois almost 30 years ago.

11 years after we were married, we divorced, after trying for 8 years to make it as a "normal" LDS couple - he told me 3 years into our marriage that he had had "homosexual encounters".

I was heart broken, and it took a while after our divorce to realize that: 1. I still loved him as a friend/brother, 2. he was still a wonderful father to our three children, and 3. I could learn a lot from him and his partner.

Over the next 16 years I stayed close to the two men, learning and growing in a way many of my Mormon friends could not understand or relate to. I was in fact criticized by some of my fellow Mormons for letting my children visit their father as often as they wanted, which was every other weekend, and anytime in between. We lived just a few miles apart.

It was not always easy, and I cannot say that I accepted everything I saw and learned, but I DO know, 100 % for sure, that this lifestyle is NOT a choice - and this is one area where I am struggling with my faith as a Mormon. I have not been very active for the past 3 or 4 years; I simply feel too "different" from many Mormons who I often see and hear as narrow minded and scared of something they do not even want to learn anything about.

The love between my ex and his partner was deeply felt and experienced by all around them when my ex went into hospice care and died last fall. We were all devastated, but few of us more than his partner who still is reeling from his loss.

While I do not consider myself a "liberal" Mormon, I do accept that I have some views that are more liberal than those of many other church members. That's OK - I am who I am, and I am not about to change. I feel that my views go right along with Mormon doctrine, the Gospel, as in loving, caring for and accepting those who are different. Isn't that what Christ did in his ministry on this earth???

My ex's parents embraced him, his sister continued to love him, and his partners family took him in as part of their family. There are a lot of people who will open their hearts to loved ones who leave the "normal" mold, and who are driven by forces we do not always understand, to be different and to have courage to be who they are.

Sadly, there are also family members who will reject their sons and daughters who "come out". Heart breaking... And cold. How can anybody reject their own offspring and still have peace in their hearts?

So, if this is not be best place for this comment, please forgive me, but I needed to write this down.

Your blog is thought provoking and I will visit again - this was not my first time. Thank you! :-)

The Faithful Dissident said...

EMS, thanks so much for sharing such a highly personal story with us. Please send me an e-mail when you get a chance. I'm wondering whether you would be willing to share this story in another forum where I think many will appreciate it.